Last Sunday's excellent BBC programme "A short stay in Switzerland" showed the dramatization of the real life tragedy of the death of Dr. Anne Turner and the way her family and friends coped with her decision to chose the moment of her dying. The play moved me so much it had me in tears at times.
I was reminded of the last few days of my mother's life. The doctors at the hospital in Germany estimated that she would probably live for another 3 weeks, in great discomfort and exhausted with the effort of staying alive. She had almost given up eating and drinking, in spite of being given only the softest and slipperiest of foods. She knew there was no real hope for her; she also knew that these last weeks would be a great struggle although she was not in any great pain.
Medication kept her heart going; we both knew, without it, she would go sooner. The medication made her ill; she felt nauseous constantly.
On the day she decided she'd had enough - she was fully aware -, the nurse came, as usual, and put the cup containing the pills and her water glass within reach of her hand . "Now take your pills, Mrs. S.", she instructed Mama, not unkindly, but very briskly, and left. Mama and I looked at each other. She said: "Take them, take them away with you when you go". I hesitated for only a few seconds, then poured the pills into my hand. Throughout the visit they stayed there. The next day I did the same, I removed the pills the moment the nurse turned her back on us.
On the third day Mama got weaker. I was called to the doctor's office and told that they now thought my mother was sinking faster than they had foreseen, was I sure she was taking her medication? Of course, I was; I was there when it was handed to her. Did they suspect? Even sympathize? Who knows. They warned me to prepare for the worst within days rather than weeks.
And that is what happened. My mother died, very peacefully, in her sleep, four days later. She did not eat again, she took only tiny sips of water, the nausea left her and she seemed to be as comfortable as she could be. She had certainly become calmer, more settled, resigned. On Mama's last day of full consciousness the old lady In the bed next to her had a visitor who brought her tiny new child to see her. Mama watched with a small, crooked, a little strained smile on her lips. "She's got it all before her", she said. It was the last thing she said.
Would we have said to each other what neither of us had been able to say in our lifetimes if she had lived for another three weeks? Probably not. The dying are concerned with themselves, as are the old.
Mama had plenty to criticize in me but I hope she finally approved of me in the end for what I helped her to achieve.